Austin at Large: The Big Engine That Must
Proposition A is wobbling around the final curve. We can’t let it derail.
The mayor, his fellow electeds, and the city's most visible social justice activist did not assemble in damp 40-degree weather Wednesday morning at Carver Library to celebrate. Proposition A, the Project Connect transit plan, is in real danger of going down to defeat, they fear, hence their urgent appeal via the media. "I'm concerned about people [not going] all the way to the bottom of the ballot," Steve Adler said. "I'm concerned about the lies associated with this election. I am concerned that people might be making decisions based on signs [saying] this costs six times more than what it actually costs. But I believe and hope that people will actually find more trusted resources than a sign that they drive by, [and] that most everybody, if they understand the real facts on Proposition A, are going to be voting in support."
I am a wee bit more optimistic about Prop A's chances than the campaign can afford to be at this point; the responsible thing to do is plan for a close race and a long E-Night. We have endorsed Prop A, as have the Statesman, most environmental groups, the Chamber and other business groups, labor groups, and advocates like the Austin Justice Coalition – a cross section of backers that should touch most of the city's voters. AJC founder and leader Chas Moore told reporters that by investing in mobility as a public good and civil right, Austin can live up to the image all of those boosters, and most of us, share of a progressive city that can have nice things: "Prop A is a chance to put our money where our mouth is."
Lies Our Elders Tell Us
It is sad that the Prop A campaign has to white-knuckle its way into Election Station, but that's what happens when mean people with too much money tell lies about you. I'm looking at today's fulmination – they come daily, like meditations from the Church of Get-Off-My-Lawn – from Voices of Austin, which is mostly just the voice of elderly politico Peck Young, amplified with the cash of undisclosed donors (hint: police union). Right at the top of Wednesday's release: "When you go vote and get to Proposition A toward the end of the ballot, keep this number in mind. 25%. According to the Travis County Tax Office, that's the average increase in property tax you'll pay on your home every year if Proposition A is approved."
This. Is. A. Lie. And Peck Young knows it's a lie; he'd certainly perform outrage if someone lied like this about his side. Prop A is not even a 25% increase in the city property tax rate, which only makes up about 18% of the "property tax you'll pay on your home every year." In truth, you'll be paying about $300 a year (at the median home value), less than homeowners pay now to Central Health or ACC, less than we all pay in sales tax for Capital Metro bus service, and less than we pay in both property and sales tax for the Austin Police Department, even after "defunding." Peck Young lies about that too, but at least he's not violating state law when he does that, unlike with Prop A.
Note that VoA just assumes that you-the-voter own a home, which most Austinites don't. The group's slogan is "Awakening Austin's Political Majority," which is also empirically false. Voices of Austin and its right-wing fellow travelers – anti-Prop A PAC Our Mobility Our Future, and other mean rich white PACs like Had Enough Austin? – are the megaphones of the dwindling minority of Rs and centrist Ds that used to run this town and have been upset at the decay of their standing for decades. (Young was running local political campaigns when I was in second grade, and I'm way older than the median Austinite or even the median voter.)
The "political majority" in Austin does not remember the Armadillo and barely even remembers the 2000 defeat of our first rail transit referendum. The opponents of that plan are still fighting this one, 20 years later, though the city is very different and vastly larger in both land and people. (Those are just facts. Sorry if you find them triggering.) The Voices of Antiquity's continued recalcitrance is both ignorant and immoral; if Austin blows this chance for true mobility equity and a new environmental trajectory, we will have told the world that we want to be an unfair and mediocre place, and our best and brightest and most loving people will and should give up on this city and go elsewhere, and old white goats like Peck Young will see that as a triumph.
The Status Quo Is Deadly
So why is Prop A wobbling as it rounds this final curve? Because it's a lot of money, and it is a tax increase, and those are never easy. And we are in crisis right now, facing not only plague but economic precarity, especially acute for beloved small businesses. That's because these same people who find transit threatening and nasty have masklessly worsened the pandemic and fumbled the recovery for nearly a year. How much better would financially hurting Austinites feel if they didn't have a car payment? It was these same people who killed the 2000 plan that would, by now, have made that a realistic option. How much better will they feel with good jobs working to build out Project Connect? These same people want to prevent that.
The majority is disgusted and revolted by this venality and is stampeding to the polls in record numbers – all the more reason to deal with Prop A now. "It is a big decision," Adler told reporters. "And when we make a big decision, we need to bring it to an election where ... it feels like virtually everybody in this community is going to vote."